"That man has a big tummy, Daddy. That man is in a wheelchair, Daddy ..." a cute little boy has noticed me and is commenting on what he sees to his father. His father is wild with embarrassment and tries to distract him. The boy, innocently, repeats what he said, figuring his father didn't hear him. Dad, not knowing what to do, pulls his son gently away and I see them a few feet from the elevator I must take on my way out. The father is talking quickly, I hear his voice saying, "How would you like it if people ..." before it trailed off.
We had no choice to pass them on as we made our way to the elevator. I was warring within because I don't like to ever intervene between parent and child. I lost the war. I spoke to father, "I just wanted to say that, if you are worried about your child's words and the effect they had on me, there was no problem with what he said. He was simply describing me, not calling me names, not valuing or judging me, not demeaning me in any way. He just noticed and wanted you to notice too. I know I am different. I'm OK with others knowing it too. You have an observant little boy, next time just say something like, "Yes, that man is big, that man is in a wheelchair, we live in a world with lots of different kinds of people." The father, listened quietly, then said, "Thanks, I never know what to do in situations like that.
I've always thought that part of the core of discrimination and the source of bullying is, somehow, the social need to disacknowledge what's plain to see. I was once in a store where a child said to her mother, "He's fat mommy." She responded, quickly and oddly, "No he's not, don't say things like that." Firstly, I am, and I am aware that I am. Secondly, I don't want to be made unspeakable. Acknowledge and move on. Don't move me, and those like me, into the shadow world of where the unspoken live.
People with disabilities have been working to eliminate those horrid attempts at 'prettying up' language around difference. You know terms like 'differently abled' and 'mentally challenged' and 'handicapable'. He have disabilities, dammit, get over it. We don't need or want language to euthanize difference. It exists.
So, when Ruby or Sadie point out a difference between me and others, I simply say, "yes, I am big," "yes, I am in a wheelchair," and that seems to be a conversation killer. They noticed, it's true, now it's no longer particularly interesting.
Noticing my difference isn't the same as staring at it. A child describing what he sees to his dad is not the same as calling a name.
I also wanted to stop the dad with the 'how would you like it if someone called you ... (pick something). Firstly, the boy didn't call me a name. And secondly, don't make my difference into a bad thing to be. I didn't want the kid walking away thinking that there are some people who are so out of the mainstream that you have to pretend that either they or their difference doesn't exist. I also didn't want him to think that it was a bad thing to be who I was.
Afterwards I was aware that I was very lucky, I had a dad who didn't get upset at my intrusion, who listened carefully to what I said. I was also lucky to have had a little boy to listened very carefully to all that I said. I don't know what he understood but he knew that I could talk to his father, as an equal, and that I wasn't ashamed of who I was.
The little boy waved to me when they headed back towards the store they'd left. He was smiling. I gave him a thumbs up and he grinned.